Anthony could not picture the future beyond the end of Autumn. This was unusual, because he was as able to imagine the far future as anyone else. Better, perhaps. In his mind’s eye, the months and years had always laid spread out as an abstract footpath, as yet unpaved and untrodden. He sometimes wondered whether other people saw it the same way he did, or whether his was a unique visualisation. Anthony often wondered about things like that: whether his inner vision used the same metaphors as everyone else. Sometimes he worried about it; most of the time he gave it no thought. But as this year wored on, somehow nothing – not even empty calendar dates – appended itself to his internal schedule. He worried he was becoming depressed. He’d read that an inability to project oneself into the future was a common symptom. He consulted a doctor, but was summarily brushed off with a barely disguised distain. But in truth he didn’t even feel sad, let alone depressed. But his work life was the best it had yet been – he was so ensconced in current issues and making excellent progress he’d made at work that, for the first time in his life, he was content with the present, excited for the immediate week ahead. He then surmised that, rather than being depressed, it was the opposite: he was living in the moment, for the moment. His primary project, the one he’d worked on for his whole time as the company, was coming to fruition. As the deadline approached it took up the whole of his waking consciousness. He was in too deep to spare any mind to what would come after. He He contented himself with thoughts that he had achieved a separation from the painful striving of his youth. He had arrived. On the Monday of the project’s final week, he arrived at work to be greeted by his team leader, and a room full of his colleagues. There was a celebratory feel in the air, and it made Anthony feel good. He shook hands with his colleagues, a mixture of emotions pervading the room, and took his seat for the presentation: “Artificial Intelligence Unit 48: re-assignment of bodies”. The following Friday, meeting the deadline, the project, and Anthony with it, came to an end.
I knew the individual calling themselves Daniel had cast a spell on me. It was the kind of thing that people like him do. It was characteristic of the man (I assume he’s a man, going by his name, although of course he cloaks himself in layers of obfuscation and his/her/their name may be one of those). Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of thing that you can ‘see a man about’. No one knows how to believe you. You have to take care of these things yourself. Fortunately, my own magical abilities allowed me to feel the targeting of the spell long before any actual ill effects were noticed on my part. My magical prowess was, and is, if I may be so bold, of a level to forewarn me of such acts. I cannot describe the feeling to non-magical persons; you’ll need to take my word for it. But it is akin to the knowledge that you are being watched. It is a heaviness on the shoulders, say. However, unlike that more prosaic feeling, you can’t simply turn around to dispel it. If you were to, magically speaking, look over your shoulder you would likely not see your oppressor. Like Daniel, they would be shrouded in hexes and incantations; you would not be allowed to see, yet you’d know they were there. For similar reasons, you cannot tell someone else of your burden. It is yours alone. And so, in the case of the attack from Daniel, I set up a counter-spell. For three nights, in private, I worked the summonings and cast the magical objects before me in the prescribed manner. I could feel within myself the building energies, like a thunderhead, as the working was made. Again, any non-magical person would see nothing out of the ordinary: some props, perhaps; an impression of intent. Finally, I unleashed the magic towards Daniel, wherever he was. The nature of magic is such that I needn’t know exactly where he is.The magic finds its own ways in these circumstances. I was soon rewarded with an easing of the effects of his own attack. And then that was that. Not even my closest acquaintances knew what had gone one between me and Daniel. I like to keep my powers hidden, for fear of unwanted attention, or society’s scorn. Therefore the battle remains invisible. Now I must turn my attention elsewhere, for there is no use awaiting further confirmation of success. Such luxury is not afforded the likes of us, this secret and rarified group of people. We mages do not even communicate directly, yet our actions are known mutually. No, I must simply accept the evidence of my own feelings, that my spell was effective against the maleficence of my enemy. I will never see ’Daniel’, nor meet any of the other mages in the flesh. Perhaps I will pass close to one in the street, and yet if either of us senses the other, we will never let on. So if it pleases you, this is the limit of knowledge that I can impart to you, the uninitiated reader. The unspoken bond of the mages means I can never more fully describe our actions, nor the secret battles that take place each day. Even if I were to try, my words would seem as madness in a world not tuned to the Powers. And so all evidence of magic and its practitioners remain hearsay, rumour and conjecture, and only these brief words of mine can be its testament.
I was, in some sense, fooled by the Mystery Citizen. He was just doing his job, and I don’t blame him for that. He was doing it all too well, in fact! That was my downfall; that is why I’m here in this cell, along with another chap who failed just like I did. All of us in this wing failed a Mystery Citizen test of one form or another. I basically lost my temper with a man I should have had more patience with – the MC, as it turns out. There are other people in here with more complex crimes – things that would not be easy to outlaw without the Mystery Citizen test. One, a few doors down from me, was a neighbour from hell – neighbour to the MC; another refused to sort her recycling properly, and argued with a ‘friendly neighbour’ who tried to nudge her in the right direction. You guessed it, the neighbour was an MC. Another neglected to social distance during one of the outbreaks, and would you know who they got too close too? They prove, at least to me, the great effectiveness of the MC test. I sit here and absorb the lesson, and will not need its teaching next time.
When an archaeological team discovered the Palace of Crustaceans there was great celebration back on Earth. The city which was being excavated had been discovered many decades ago, and if it generated excitement now, it was only because it promised to be much larger than the other cities discovered around this planet and on countless other worlds. Each city was a monument, a ruinous memorial to a long-dead civilisation. Hope resurfaced each time that perhaps this one would teach us more about what had led to the disappearance of the creatures which had created and inhabited it. An unspoken addendum to this wish was for a demonstration of how unlike our civilisation was with theirs – how slim the changes were of us meeting a similar fate. And yet each time hopes faded. No extraterrestrial civilisation seemed to have left anything – no clues to a history. That is, until the bas-reliefs in the Palace of Crustceans were excavated. A huge wall of the complex was covered in intricate, if stylised depictions of a battle. The two sides were mismatched, one consisting on tiny, barely depicted figures in great numbers. Towering above their charotic hordes were monstrous ranks of cyclopean might. Each giant looked for all the world like a bipedal crab, or insect. Were these friezes recounting the legends of the inhabitants? And which side were the artists? A simple reading saw these carvings as a depiction of the civilisation’s conquering its enemies, but dissenting voices said something else. Were these the last days of the artists’ own downfall? Was the Palace of Crustaceans a record of great battles won, or a warning from the little people, from history? A keep-away danger sign, of the perils to be encountered in this sector of space?
Need we try again to investigate how everyone found out about the End? It was complicated enough for the people to adjust without the extra baggage of working out how they found out. There were interesting, diverting discussions about when it was known suddenly that the world would end in three and a bit years. But no one remembers how they were told. They remember remembering it, as if they’d all been told years before, but had only just now recalled the facts to mind. People chatting in the streets suddenly stopped, their minds yanked into a new realisation, to the ‘memory’. When they tried to resume, something in the others’ eyes demonstrated that the knowledge lay behind those too. These days that moment is hardly spoken of, nor that sickening feeling in the stomach, a gut punch. Like some horrible obligation that you’d put to the back of your mind. People are too busy as well, reassessing their lives. Preparing somehow, making sure lists are ticked, scores settled, axes ground or buried. There are a vocal few who try to convince the world that it can’t possibly be true. Because it can’t, can it? Almost every scientist who has tried to find clues has come up wanting. There are papers debating whether something can be true just because we all know it. And this isn’t mere belief, faith – this is knowledge. No one knows how the End will occur; they simply know it will come, and when it will come. But two scientists know the truth. They know why everyone knows. It was their experiment. Will be their experiment. Their experiment which inserts something into the timeline. Even they don’t how it started, or will start; where, when or how their machine created a loop. The loop ends time only to restart it four years earlier. The fact is everyone remembers it, the moment itself, even if they don’t realise. And that is why they are sure. They have seen it happen, and it will happen again, and it may happen forever.
There’s one advantage to the comprehensive destruction of humanity’s civilisation, and that is the annihiliation of pointlessly complex computing. Reg knew that since the turn of the 21st century computers had rapidly outgrown the power that society could usefully take advantage of. The computing sophistication had mostly been directed towards blowing each other to kingdom come in the imitation world of computer games, or creating situations in films (instead of getting actual damn actors, or shooting on location) or poking fruit to make the mdisappear. And of course there was the surveillance aspect. Reg could not abide his civil rights being eroded in the name of profit. Reg had worked for long enough in the software business to know a thing or two, so even before the apocalypse people knew him as a technical wizard. But they often expressed surprise at how he could be so technically literate and “yet, not on Instagram and Facebook”. To which he naturally, if a little haughtily, would reply: “That’s exactly why I’m not on Instagram or Facebook”. And then everything changed. A massive electromagnetic pulse from an unknown source wiped clean all computers. Consequently, that part of the world so used to communication and calculation quickly collapsed. But the pulse couldn’t erase the knowledge in Reg’s head, and so when England became a tribal battleground he became instrumental in the development of electromechanical computers, used to create secure communications, and break the encrpted handwritten notes of his enemies. There was never enough computing power now, and that helped set Reg apart, which suited him just fine.
There were some very odd conversations in CryoSystem before the Truth got out. The thing that protected us for a long time was that the cryogenic waiting list had built up over a vast length of time. So when the newly-revived met each other in the street, they couldn’t tell other revivals like them from the general populace. We briefed our customers to keep their medical history – at least this part of it – absolutely secret. We told them that a lot of people ‘like them’ had had unwelcome amounts of attention. The tabloids and other unscrupulous parties wanted to know all about the distant past, and what the revivals thought about this future they found themselves in. Those people were put on show like circus animals, we said, and so they were best remaining anonymous. Even when two of them met and revealed their secret to each other, it was deemed to be a massive coincidence, a chance meeting, and so the charade continued. Even the doctors inside CryoSystem didn’t know, despite the fact they’d all put themselves on the waiting list at some point. Sometimes I think that was one of the boldest plays on our part. The software running it all just had to emulate the right number of illnesses and injuries in our emulated population. We told our doctors that we needed them to work solely on CryoSystem patients, so the information loop stayed closed. But inevitably one guy decided he’d rather like the attention, not to mention the anticipated money, from going public. From there it was a very short space of time indeed before all our revivals realised everyone in their world was a cryo. We were forced to come clean: we’d built the computer, CyroSystem, to house their minds. Their bodies were disposed of. But frankly, what other option was there? If we’d revived every frozen corpse that we’d stored then the country would have been overrun in months!
I feel stupid. I don’t consider myself a computer person, even though everyone around me says I’m more of a computer person than anyone they know. But I do consider myself savvy when it comes to the online world. I feel at home there and I know all the pitfalls awaiting the unwary. But I feel it’s just a matter of knowledge and applied intelligence that makes you safe online. And so when I met this new person online I thought I would understand what was going on. That I wasn’t going to get a nasty surprise. But I was wrong. They knew everything about me, even more than I knew about myself. That was my mistake. They were as upset as me when the truth came out. My other friends said I should have known all along that I, not this new friend, was the bot. But when it happens to you it’s different, no? I mean, how would you tell?
I need to take my glasses to be repaired, but I haven’t got time. I’m at a bit of a financial low point so I haven’t had a spare pair since the last lot broke. And, anyway, I’m not about to wander around in the outside world, blind as I am without them. Funny word that, ‘glasses’. I think there’s some silica in them, but we get the word from back in the day when the lenses were literally made of glass. Imagine that: you had to float bits of glass in front of your eyes. The very thought of that old, brittle substance so close to my fragile flesh makes my skin crawl! And people thought glasses helped you see ‘clearly’, but ‘clearly’ just meant equal to unaugmented eyes. Just a gadget to bring you up to the baseline that most people enjoyed by default. Seems like a waste of time: if you’re going to tool-up a body part, why stop at ‘normal’? I think it was something to do with their blasted ideals of equality. Or maybe they didn’t like the idea of letting the blind overtake the sighted in ability. I don’t know. Odd times those. Maybe they were precious about their biological eyes. We think nothing of removing them to fit in the things we now call ‘glasses’, but they were more sentimental back then. That’s why they all needed extra gadgets to get the things we take for granted, like local information, directions, putting names to faces and the like. Thankfully the government realised the mess we were all in and funded the Glasses, free at the point of use, and made them mandatory more than 20 years ago. Glasses not only bring us the information we need, they filter out the dangerous and distracting too. My grandfather railed against this more than any other part of the scheme. He was so wedded to knowing all the useless information, like the colour of every car on the road or something, or what the weather was doing now (when it was too late to do anything about it!) or what kind of crimes were going on two or three doors away. Granddad wanted to know everything! He wanted to be the one to filter things out, which seems like too much effort for me. I mean, what would the government filter out that you’d need to know, or do anything about?
I’m lucky eough to be too young to remember when all of this had to be done by hand. Our parents and grandparents tel use don’t know we’re born, and even though I should have a bit of an attitude towards that bland statement, in truth I think they’ve got a point. As privileged as I am to live here and now, I make a point of remembering how our forebears had so much less of this – music and painting – and had to produce almost all of it by hand. Now that we have labour-saving devices for this stuff, there’s more than we ever could hope to listen to, which is great. Talking of privilege, there’s one guy, a bit of a hipster it has to be said, who’s trying to make his own music – by hand. Talk about first world problems! Someone with too much time on their hands (maybe these labour-saving devices aren’t so good!). Luckily, I heard the police, or some agency, got involved, which is for his own good I say.